Benjamin F. Oakes Civil War Letter
Union soldier (1st Maine Heavy Artillery) in Virginia
Destruction of the Weldon Railroad
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One letter (December 13, 1864) from Union soldier Capt. Benjamin F. Oakes of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery to J. G. Richardson. The letter was written from "in the field" near Petersburg, Virginia. Oakes describes in detail the destruction of the Weldon Railroad by Union troops and the burning buildings in Sussex Courthouse, VA. Oakes was originally from Old Town, Maine and resided post-war in East Tawas, Michigan.
Headquarters, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery
In the Field
December 13th, 1864
Yours of the 8th inst. reached me this morning and found me roughing it as usual.
The 5th Corps and one Div. of the 2nd (3rd Div) have just returned from a raid on the enemy's communications. We started at daylight last Wednesday morn, taking the Jerusalem Plank road and crossed the "Nottoway" the first night and there camped, making some 20 miles from camp the first day.
Started at daylight next morn and marched all day without accident, the 5 corps in advance, camping at night near "Jarratt's Station." The 5 corps were busy tearing up the railroad (Weldon) that night, and in the morning we commenced following their example. We have made a complete wreck of the Weldon road for nearly 20 miles, viz. from above "Jarratt's" to "Hickford" on the Meherrin river.
It would have done you good to see how we destroyed this great artery of rebel life. In the first place we stacked arms alongside the road and the line marched on it and grasping the rails and ends of the "sleepers" on one side, we just turned it right over! Then commenced the work of separating the sleepers from the rails, which was no easy job, for it was a very well constructed road, and of the best material both the iron & wood. Northern "mudsills" soon found a way, however, by means of the Telegraph posts which stood by the road at short intervals.
The sleepers separated, we built piles of them, and dry fence rails, which were also handy, and piled the rails across the top of the pile with a short bearing in the center, and set fire to it. The fire burned everything in the wood line, and so heated the rails, that the ends bent to the ground thus rendering them useless. Our boys made short work of it I tell you. But a few minutes elapsed from the time of taking hold until the rails were heating.
Coming back, we made clean work of the buildings on the route in retaliation for some of our men who were unable to keep up with the column, being murdered and mutilated. Sussex C. H. went up with all the buildings thereabouts. I enclose an ancient specimen of book keeping, which came from a store near the C. H. I would like to write you a long letter about the incidents of the raid, but have not time. We arrived back in camp yesterday (Monday) afternoon.
You wished to know about George. The Charge preferred against him, was "Cowardice in the face of the Enemy," a grave charge truly, but unwarrantable, in his case. George made an unfortunate mistake in that affair, but I do not think Cowardice has a place in his constitution. I have seen him under fire before, and when a battle was imminent, and his conduct was good. In this particular case, the attack was a surprise, and everything connected with it looked for a few moments like a general Skedaddle for us. In these few moments of intense excitement, and confusion, George got separated from his command and when, on after thought, he would have rejoined it, he could not, there being such a rush to the rear. He made a mistake there, but by no means proved himself cowardly. He also made another, when he plead "Guilty" to the charge by advice of an officer, who professed to be his friend. Otherwise he might have obtained an honorable discharge. Such is the feeling among nearly all of the officers of the Regt.
Remember me to all the family, and friends.
B. F Oakes
J. S. Richardson, Esq.
P.S. I think Warren is a prisoner